Andy Wilson stands at the back of a large, humid studio space, as fists fly and men and women grunt under the impact of kicks and punches all around him. "Thirty seconds, as hard and fast as you can go," Wilson shouts, as the kicking becomes more rapid and furious.
On a Thursday night, the main room of Wilson's Minnesota Kali Group Martial Arts (MKG)—a branch of a Minnesota martial arts school of the same name—is packed. The air smells like sweat and the stereo blares loud, fast music by the Prodigy, Mos Def, and Fatboy Slim, like a rad dance party where everybody just happens to be punching each other.
For eight years, students have been coming to Wilson's Greenwood studio for classes in mixed martial arts, weapons training, and "body sculpting."
Wilson started out holding classes in a Central District elementary school lunchroom before expanding to his studio in Greenwood. As his classes became more popular, Wilson acquired the space next door. Wilson estimates he now has about 300 students at what he calls his "martial arts high school," which operates classes at different skill levels seven days a week. Wilson, a self-described "martial arts junkie," has been training in different martial arts for years, but he doesn't compete. "Competition isn't in my personal interest," he says. Indeed, MKG doesn't focus on the hierarchical belt systems and competitiveness. Wilson says he believes they make martial arts less accessible.
Wilson, a 36-year-old Minnesota native, has been involved with martial arts since 1987, but can't pinpoint the moment he first got interested. "Probably from my brothers beating me up," he jokes.
Wilson, who majored in philosophy at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, is far from the hard-nosed drill instructor or no-nonsense sensei you'd expect to find teaching martial arts classes. Standing just under six feet tall with a big smile and spiky blond hair, Wilson is not a hulking, imposing figure. That is until he starts doing roundhouse kicks that look like they could collapse a lung.
With the help of his dedicated students, Wilson has been able to distribute the workload and accommodate the school's growing popularity.
There's a place for all skill levels at MKG, from Lil' Ninjas—the classes for 4-to-6-year-olds—upward. Wilson says that's by design; he's a lifelong learner, too, and hopes to be doing martial arts for the rest of his life. "Martial arts are something you never get good at," he says.